By PEDRO VELAZCO
---- — FORT WAYNE — Peru's wrestling team is sending a strong contingent to the state finals.
Seniors Evan Loe, Kegan Kern and Nick Cress all punched tickets to the state finals by finishing in the top four in their respective weight classes at the Fort Wayne Semistate on Saturday.
Loe won the 145-pound weight class. Kern was fourth in the 132 class. Cress was fourth in the 195 class.
Peru coach Andy Hobbs was excited about his haul to Indy. The state finals are Friday and Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“Twenty-two years in [coaching] this is the very best performance in the semistate,” he said. “We’ve had three kids advance other times, this is our third time with that, but we had nine kids wrestle and I thought all nine of them did as well as they could."
The second round of the semistate is the ticket round — winners are assured a top-four finish and a spot in the state finals.
“This is the fourth time [Kern] has been here, he’s been in that ticket match a couple times, had some one-point, some heartbreaking losses. I was just really hoping he’d get over the hump. He sure did with style, a big finish on a double for the win [in the second round]," Hobbs said.
“Evan, state placer last year, qualified as a sophomore, got second here last year, won it this time, just hope he has a great week and can make a charge.
“Nick Cress has really turned it around the last two weeks. He struggled at conference and sectional, has really turned it around and wrestled lights out.”
Having three Bengal Tigers alive in the final week of the season will change the energy in the wrestling room for Loe, who is making his third trip. He didn’t give up a takedown in his four wins.
“It’s awesome to have a bunch of teammates going,” he said. “The last two years it’s only been me.”
Loe overwhelmed his competition at 145. Consistently, Loe was more aggressive and scored almost at will. He beat his first opponent 14-2, pinned his second in the third period, then scored a 15-5 victory in the semifinals and had a 9-1 win in the final.
“It’s hard to explain, but I felt confident the whole day,” Loe said. “There was no way I was going to get taken down, beat.”
Loe had finished second two years in a row at the semistate, which got him to state, but didn’t get him far enough. He didn’t want to have that regret as a senior.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot from last year,” he said. “I put everything on the line because this is basically my last time wrestling. Senior year, I had to step up my game.”
State is the ultimate measuring stick. Loe was eighth last year and that’s not going to satisfy him this time. Just like Hinkle described, he knows what it’s going to take move up.
“It’s going to be hell, I don’t know if you can put that in the newspaper or not, but the intensity level is going to be all the way up here,” Loe said, holding his hand up to his head to demonstrate. “My practices are going to be even higher than that. I’m going to have to work my butt off to get that state championship.”
• Maconaquah 126-pounder Chase Wilson suffered a 5-4 loss in the second round, his only loss of the season.
In the first round at state, Kern (39-6) will face McCutcheon senior Seth Carithers (38-1). Loe will face West Central junior Parker Fritz (40-6). And Cress (40-10) will go against New Palestine senior Brian Wagner (38-4).